It’s common knowledge that many MOOC students drop out partway through their course. But some of these learners might consider their “incomplete” to be a complete success. A new study of completion rates among HarvardX MOOCs suggests that student intentions be incorporated into evaluations of MOOC effectiveness.
Rethinking Low Completion Rates in MOOCs
by Steve Kolowich
Completion rates in free online courses are low—to critics, laughably so. But exactly how low are they? The answer might be a matter of interpretation.
Let’s say 79,500 people sign up for a handful of massive open online courses offered by Harvard University. About 44,500 of those people say they are there to complete the course and earn a certificate. About 23,000 say they are there either to browse the course materials or to complete a few assignments. The remaining 12,000 say they haven’t decided what their goals are.
At the end of the course, 10,500 people earn a certificate of completion. So what was the completion rate?
It depends on whether you think intent matters.
Those numbers are from a new study by Justin Reich, a research fellow at Harvard. Noticing how critics had seized on the low completion rates in MOOCs, Mr. Reich decided to complicate things by figuring out whether the people who were “failing” to complete the courses had actually been trying to complete them in the first place.